Coaching Profile – Gavin Burren

We’d love to hear about how you got in athletics, and what drove you to pursue coaching? 

I grew up in the UK in the 70s and 80s and was playing soccer at high school when surprisingly my geography teacher who played high level Rugby noticed I had some endurance, and he suggested a local athletics club. GB was in its heyday during this period with Coe, Ovett, Cram and Elliot making the headlines of newspapers so I got involved and started running 800/1500 and cross country. I caught the bug and got quite good as a junior representing GB as an U20 several times over 1500 and winning an English Schools title. 

I got a bit ahead of myself and training got too intense and my body couldn’t handle it leading to some chronic injuries that ultimately put pay to my aspirations. But the love of Athletics was deep rooted at this stage and I stayed in the sport after moving to Australia not long after this.  

I stayed in club athletics during the 90s and when my kids came along, naturally Little Athletics was a big part of bringing the kids up. My kids grew out of the sport but I stayed on coaching which had been calling me for a while with Richard Huggins at Knox Athletics. Richard Huggins and Tom Kelly of Doncaster were significant influences on me as a developing coach and ultimately the reason I started coaching Abbey Caldwell. 

Who or what instilled a love of the sport for you? 

My early running days I was influenced by my first coach, Chris Newman, who instilled a healthy competitiveness and desire to be better and improve. My training partner was much better than me and pushed me to be better always and this was what I loved about the sport. Always wanting to be better, run a PB or win a race or beat a competitor. Above all this the joy of running (when fit) was a very satisfying feeling. So a combination of feeling amazing when it all came together occasionally on the track and a strong bond between training partners drove my love for the sport. 

What is your coaching philosophy? 

As I mentioned my experiences on the track and the mistakes I made influenced me heavily as a coach. My philosophy has changed over the years and I now look much closer to the event demands and the gaps the athlete has to achieve their desired goals. I focus on developing a working relationship with my athletes and try to create a pathway that is challenging but achievable. This creates buy in from the athlete. Ultimately the athlete develops to a stage where they can drive the coach to where they want to go, sometimes they don’t know or know how to get there and that in my mind is the role of the coach. 

Describe your favourite training session. Why do you love this one so much? 

Any type of “blended” session that allows for some volume and a range of energy systems are favourites. Seeing athletes work into a session and build momentum are fun to be around and the sight of a group training together for a common goal, to improve, is a sight to see. This type of blended session allows the coach to be creative and keep athletes engaged. As my athletes have developed I quite enjoy some of the longer aerobic / threshold sessions as well. 

What is the best part of being coach? And what is the worst part? 

The best part of coaching is the relationships with the athletes and seeing them do well which is very satisfying. Watching an athlete develop, follow a plan and achieve a goal while having fun along the way is why I coach. When it doesn’t happen due to injury that is the worst part in my opinion. 

How do you develop national athletes into international athletes? 

Very slowly. I think the key is to create a pathway that’s sustainable and give the younger athlete some success or progress without pushing too hard. I can’t justify training young athletes like adults. The goal as junior development coach is, in my opinion, to create a passion for the sport that can be turned into a lifestyle if it’s required later on as an international athlete. Set up “training habits” early rather than train hard too early. 

I have been unable to coach some athletes that want to “fast track” early success and we have parted ways. The main thing is if I use Abbey as an example, we didn’t rush while others did, we missed some “opportunities” early on because of this, but ultimately it didn’t mean anything. She didn’t get injured, or lose the desire to be better, because we didn’t rush. When the time is ready though you need a good plan for each season and ahead of that. That plan should involve identifying gaps in performance and development and how to fill them. 

What do you perceive are the biggest challenge/s in Australian athletics from your perspective? 

Early burnout in young athletes, retention of juniors especially females, competition from other sports all spring to mind. We also have to consider coaching demands on what is essentially a hobby for most coaches. The sport is coach driven without good coaches we won’t get better. Australia is currently blessed with a diverse range of coaches and groups in the distance space and it’s never been stronger. We need to learn and build from this coaching community. 

How do you manage your athletes as they taper and peak for major events? How is Abbey tracking for the Olympics? 

Tapering for major events is challenging and individual, one size definitely does not fit all here. There is some trial and error with every athlete but in general I would use a funnel type approach throughout the season(s) to build fitness, blend the event demands in and finally sharpen it. That’s a very simplified way to describe what, for Abbey may take months of planning. 

We are very blessed to be pre-selected for Paris in the 800m and Abbey has now some space to focus on preparation rather than chase selection. She is literally boarding a plane right now heading to Doha and onto the USA for a few races and we will review the plans after these races. But she’s in a good place right now and excited to be Paris bound.